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Guest Post – Dave Miller from Back40 Design

Back40 Design Guest Post

Are you a designer, programmer, or a developer just starting out? Pretty daunting, huh? When Mrs. Sooter asked me to post a guest blog, I thought, what can I write about? What could I impart to these people looking to get into the web design field? And then I thought, why did I volunteer to do this?

Back40 Design Cartoon by Dave MillerAs I sit in front of my laptop and wait for blog magic to happen, I realize this assignment is no different than any client design project. And how do we get projects done at Back40? Through our team of account executives, project managers, web programmers, developers, and designers – and we have some of the best in Oklahoma City. So, let me get this project underway.

Since we have 10 web professionals commenting, it was impossible to contain their awesomeness in one just one blog. This here is part 1 of 2 blogs (Part 2).

What advice do you have for someone that works directly with clients?

Find out as much about the client as you can before you meet with them. That includes looking for information they don’t give you.

  • Who are their competitors?
  • Who is their target audience?
  • What are their short term and long term goals?
  • What type of advertising and marketing have they done or are currently doing?

The more you know about the client, the easier it will be for you to relate to them and give them a quality and effective product (whether that’s print, web, PR or whatever products or services you are offering them).

Be confident in your abilities and be able to explain how you and your company can improve their business. If you have done your research, you will come in knowing the client, but it’s also key to be able to tailor your presentation based on what you discover in that meeting and leave them with solid knowledge of how you can help them and how your company can accomplish their goals.

– JR Ross, web account executive

Any advice on managing more than one web project?

Managing multiple projects is difficult at times but rewarding. There are several tricks and tips to making sure that each and every client receives the type of service that they are looking for. You should always remember that each project is different. Just as each business is different. Depending on a variety of things such as technical knowledge, company culture, and excitement for the project, the amount of interaction that each client needs on a regular basis can change.
Managing web projects can be summed up into three areas.

  • Communication
  • Explanation
  • Guidance

Communication: Always communicate to clients what the status of the project is: Who is working on what, what information do you need from them, and when do you expect for things to be finished. If the game plan changes, communicate! It’s important for everyone to know what to expect.

Explanation: Often a Web project manager spends a significant amount of time explaining to clients not only what is going on with their project, but also technological concepts. If a client doesn’t know the difference between Flash and Javascript, you may have to explain why one is used rather than the other.

Guidance: Explaining what something is sometimes isn’t enough. You may need to guide them towards what is best for their project. Knowing what is best is always subjective, however. Just because you believe it is for the best, does not mean that they will.

In summary, keep lists, write things down, and be willing to bend. Changing focus is just part of the game. What works for one guy, will not work for another. And always remember that the client wants your advice, but in the end, it is their project not yours. Oh… and Caffeine, lots and lots of it!

– Reyna Wilcox, web team manager

Can you give us do ‘dos and don’ts’ for design meetings?

Do:

  • Research your client’s company before the meeting.
  • Prepare questions before the meeting.
  • Be on time.
  • Be approachable, professional, and engaging.
  • Bring paper and pen.
  • Write the client’s name down on your paper. (If there are multiple people in the room write their names down as they are sitting around you.)
  • Guide the meeting. (verbally give the client an agenda for the meeting so that you and the client stay on task.)
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Ask direct questions about the client’s company to get to know them.
  • Ask questions about their competition.
  • Ask direct questions about the project and set project goals.
  • Ask abstract questions to discover what the client is wanting for the project visually.
  • Look at visuals together to ensure you understand what the client is verbally expressing what they want for the project visually.
  • Go over the project process.
  • Set project milestones while the client is there with you.
  • Give the client clear action steps if there is anything you need from them before starting your design.
  • Be gracious and use the client’s name when saying goodbye. (For example, “It was so great to meet you today John *shake hand* and I really enjoyed getting to know your company better through our meeting… I will talk to you soon.”)

Don’t:

  • Be late.
  • Tell the client you have never heard of them.
  • Come unprepared.
  • Have a strong odor of smoke, perfume, or food on your person.
  • Talk too much.
  • Interrupt the client.
  • Let the meeting pass by without understanding the client and their desires for their project.
  • End the meeting without communicating specific project steps that will follow the design meeting.

– Amy Samuel, senior graphic designer

How can a PHP newbie increase their knowledge quickly?

The Internet is the best tool to help increase knowledge your knowledge in PHP. PHP is a very dynamic open source language that has changed vastly over the years. A great resource for newbie knowledge, aside from Google, is the official PHP Manual provided at http://docs.php.net/ It’s very robust and includes comments from other developers  around the world. You can also get detailed information about any of the 700+ individual built-in PHP functions by visiting http://php.net/<function>, such as http://php.net/fgets.

Learning Object-Oriented and MVC principles/practices will assist you in working with most Open Source PHP frameworks. Find a framework that looks interesting and start a test project that you feel would be difficult at your current skill level. Forcing yourself to learn new ways of developing in PHP will only make you better.

Strive to be a well-rounded web programmer and also learn as much as you can about database interaction, safe coding practices, and JavaScript (not just jQuery!)
– Jon Fields, web programmer

What’s something all new developers need to know?

In terms of learned skill, developers should be more than familiar with databases, scripted and object-oriented programming, HTML, XHTML, Javascript, and JQuery. Furthermore, knowing how to read and edit someone else’s code gracefully is an important step. Newer developers especially should get used to following different methodologies in coding and programming. Being familiar with tools such as Firebug can help a lot as well, as it gives you the ability to edit websites in real-time without making any live changes.

Another big help is being willing to learn and ask questions. It is not necessary to be an expert, but it is necessary that you are willing to learn how to do things the way your company wants you to learn them. This shouldn’t mean stifling your creative spirit, but it can mean that you won’t be using CSS3 or HTML5 as a standard for a while, and will probably mean that you’re going to be more familiar with legacy systems and browsers than you ever thought you would.

Finally, don’t worry if you break something, or even if you totally fail at a project. Learning why you broke it and how to fix it is some of the best practice one can get. In terms of failure, learning how not to do something can, in some cases, be better than learning how to do something. It also gives you the chance to find your own outside, online resources for coding/programming help.

In conclusion, a new developer needs to be beyond a basic level in the most common areas of development (databases and programming in particular); the developer must be willing to both learn new things and learn them in the way their company wants them to learn them; and the developer must not fear failure, but instead take it as an opportunity to learn how not to do something.
– Jessica Hough, web developer (Francis Tuttle Alumni & former Back40 intern)

 

For more information about Back40 Design, go to www.back40design.com. And please LIKE our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/back40design.

There are 5 comments. Add Yours.

Daniel Kline

very good information, especially liked the part regarding pushing yourself beyond your skill level in a PHP task so as to learn something new.

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David —

Great info

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Ryan Hickman

Great post from my favorite web design team! Can’t wait to read Part 2.

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Natasha

This is a great post – thank you all for sharing this information with us!
(I think we need to frame that sketch and hang it in the WDD classroom!) 🙂

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